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Three Montana Grizzlies named to Buck Buchanan Award preseason watch list

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Justin Ford

Montana cornerback Justin Ford, shown running through drills in March, is one of three Griz that have made the Buck Buchanan Award preseason watch list.

MISSOULA — Montana's vaunted defense received some more national validation with the release of the Buck Buchanan Award preseason watch list Thursday by Stats Perform.

The Grizzlies had three nominees on the 35-player list for the award given to the national defensive player of the year in the FCS. UM and North Dakota State, which also had three selections, were the only teams with multiple players.

Representing the Griz on the list are linebacker Patrick O'Connell, cornerback Justin Ford and safety Robby Hauck. All three will be seniors this season and were voted to the Big Sky preseason all-conference team last week.

O'Connell finished third in voting for the Buck Buchanan Award last season while making six All-America teams. He enters this season as the Big Sky preseason defensive MVP, ranks 10th in UM history with 20.5 sacks and is tied for 12th with 31.5 tackles for loss.

Ford ended up fourth in voting for last year's Buck Buchanan Award and was a unanimous All-America selection, earning first-team honors from all eight organizations. He led NCAA Division I with nine interceptions, had a pick in eight straight games, returned two INTs for touchdowns and ran back a blocked field goal for a score.

Hauck earned one All-America nod last year. He ranks third in UM history with 364 career tackles, 33 shy of the record.

The Big Sky had two other players on the list: Portland State defensive back Anthony Adams and Northern Colorado linebacker David Hoage. Adams was a finalist for the award in 2019.

In total, there are 13 previous finalists on the watch list, which features all 15 FCS conferences. Two prior winners are on the list: 2021 recipient Isaiah Land of Florida A&M and 2020 recipient Jordan Lewis of Southern.

Players can join the watch list throughout the season. A national media panel will select the winner after the season.

Montana has had three winners, tied for the most with Cal Poly, since the award was first handed out in 1995. They are Kroy Biermann (2007), Tyrone Holmes (2015) and Dante Olson (2019). When Holmes won, the award was known as the Stats Perform FCS Defensive Player of the Year.

Frank Gogola covers Griz football and prep sports for the Missoulian. Follow him on Twitter @FrankGogola or email him at frank.gogola@missoulian.com.

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